Friday, November 30, 2001

Effort to protect kids
amounts to censorship

The issue: The U.S. Supreme Court
heard arguments on a law that makes
a crime out of Internet obscenity
accessible to children

DEFEATED four years ago in its first attempt to protect minors from Internet obscenity, Congress rewrote and passed a new law, but it remains flawed because of its intrusion on the First Amendment rights of adults. The U.S. Supreme Court should prevent the government from assuming what is essentially a parental responsibility, and Congress should quit trying to censor the Internet.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was intended to criminalize transmission of indecency on the Internet to minors. However, the high court ruled that applying "contemporary community standards" -- such as those used in restricting magazines in neighborhood stores -- to the Internet would subject all online material to the standards of the most restrictive community, and threw the law out.

Then, in enacting the Child Online Protection Act in 1998, Congress tried to tailor the legislation by limiting the restrictions to commercial entities that can bear the costs of using age-verification technologies. Unlike the earlier law, the new version does not cover chat rooms or sites run by nonprofit organizations.

In response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, however, a federal appeals court in Pennsylvania blocked implementation of the 1998 law for the same reason that the earlier law failed to pass muster: It would result in "the most puritan of communities" setting standards for determining obscenity throughout the country.

In their questioning of attorneys this week, the justices of the Supreme Court focused on community standards. Justice Stephen G. Beyer wondered if Congress meant to establish a standard for "the United States taken as a whole," while Justice Antonin Scalia asked, "What does a juror who has spent his whole life in North Carolina know about Las Vegas?"

Such an attempt to create a national standard would be futile, argued ACLU attorney Ann E. Beeson. The law, she warned, could "transform this dynamic medium into one that is only for children."

Admittedly, enforcement of such a standard could reduce the need for people to monitor their children's use of the Internet. Most parents, however, are not about to relinquish that responsibility to the government or software filters. Those filters are not yet perfect in blocking offensive Web sites, making last year's Children's Internet Protection Act ineffective.

Internet browsers can be set to record a child's trail through cyberspace. Parents should take charge by reviewing their children's Internet experiences on home computers.

Health insurance
plan a good first step

The issue: Gov. Cayetano
uses his emergency powers
to help the unemployed

With a propitious health insurance program for the recently unemployed, Gov. Cayetano is off to a good start in using the emergency powers granted him by the state Legislature. If his initial move is any indication of how judiciously he will flex his emergency muscle during this economic crisis, the governor can expect the kind of broad support the health program has received.

Providing temporary medical insurance for workers who have lost their jobs since Sept. 11 is a fairly benign first act; few would begrudge helping those people. As he moves on to other matters, however, Cayetano can expect to encounter opposition. Accordingly, he should be selective about how he uses his authority,.

More than 31,000 people have filed unemployment claims since the attacks and the deflating of Hawaii's tourism industry. The health insurance program will provide coverage to individuals who lost employer-sponsored plans along with their jobs. The cost is comparatively low -- $63 a month -- with less-expensive co-payments for a variety of medical treatments.

Although the coverage, which will begin in January and run through Dec. 21, 2002, is temporary, state human service officials hope it will be enough to get the unemployed through tough times when work is scarce and welfare reforms are crowding the ranks of job-seekers. They acknowledge that people with chronic illnesses and large families may find the program wanting, but with the governor's use of his powers they are moving fast on other health measures, such as reimbursements for COBRA payments, that may offer more help by early next year.

Cayetano did well to cut the red tape to set the insurance plan in motion. Still on the agenda, however, are more contentious matters, such as reducing airport concession fees for businesses and starting construction projects to pump money into the economy.

Skeptics were right to be wary of the sweeping powers the governor first sought from the Legislature during its emergency session. Even with the boundaries and time limits they subsequently imposed, lawmakers should keep close watch on Cayetano's plans and he should continue to advise them of his proposals. Moreover, taxpayers should keep their antennae up and tuned to what's happening.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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